New Texts Out Now: Joel Beinin, "Mixing, Separation, and Violence in Urban Spaces and the Rural Frontier in Palestine"

Posted on May 13, 2013 by Tadween Editors | 0 comments

Tadween will be posting excerpts from the Arab Studies Journal's Twentieth Anniversary issue. What follows is an interview with one of the authors as well as an excerpt of his article from the issue. 

Joel Beinin, “Mixing, Separation, and Violence in Urban Spaces and the Rural Frontier in Palestine.” Arab Studies Journal Vol. XXI No. 1 (Spring 2013).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this article?

Joel Beinin (JB): It grew out of a conference on late Ottoman Palestine at the University of Lausanne. I was invited to make a link between the democratic possibilities opened by the 1908 Young Turk Revolution and the state of affairs one hundred years later. We tend to think we have made a lot of progress since then. With respect to the question of co-existence of the ethno-national and religious communities in Palestine, it seems the opposite has occurred.

J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the article address?

JB: The main thrust is to reexamine the idea of "the frontier" as primarily a rural space. The argument is that Zionism, despite the ideological orientation of Labor Zionism and the central role of kibbutzim and agriculture in the Zionist self-imagination, became over time an increasingly urban settlement project. Consequently, the violence associated with frontiers also became increasingly concentrated in urban areas—exemplified by Jerusalem and Hebron today.

 J: How does your work connect to and/or depart from your previous research?

 JB: It's not the sort of thing I normally research and write about. But then I realized I could combine the late Ottoman narrative, which is based on secondary literature, with some research I had been doing on Palestinian-Israeli-international joint struggle against the occupation since the second intifada and say something new.

 J: Who do you hope will read this article, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

JB: Whenever I write about Israel-Palestine, one of my objectives is to bring to the forefront nuances and unexpected elements of the issue. Some people in the political movement in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, who are undoubtedly well- intentioned, tend to have a very simple and even cartoonish version of the history of the conflict. I've always believed that having a fuller and more complex understanding of the issue can help those who are actively engaged in the struggle for justice and peace.

Most activists aren't likely to read something like this. But perhaps it will trickle down. Beyond those interested in Israel-Palestine and the Arab world more broadly, I think that using the frame of settler-colonialism can undermine exceptionalist versions of the history and make the conflict understandable in the same terms we would use to discuss settler colonialism in North America, Australia, Algeria, Kenya, etc.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

JB: I was working on a book on Palestinian-Israeli-international joint struggle against the occupation since the second intifada when the Arab popular uprisings of 2011 erupted. I've written almost exclusively on contemporary Egypt since then. The second edition of a book I co-edited with Frédéric Vairel, Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa, will be published by Stanford University Press in July. In addition to our co-authored introduction, my chapter (co-written with Marie Duboc for the second edition) is on the social movement of Egyptian workers—comprised of strikes, sit-ins, and other forms of collective action—in the decade before the 2011 uprising and in the first year after it.

J: What methodologies did you use in your research for this article?

JB: It's a mix of secondary literature for the late Ottoman period, some demographic analysis using census data and other statistics, and newspaper and human rights reports (the latter especially for the post-1967 settlement project in the West Bank). I don't think there is anything particularly distinctive about the article in that respect.

Excerpts from “Mixing, Separation, and Violence in Urban Spaces and the Rural Frontier in Palestine”

 From its inception, the Zionist project entailed a spatial relocation of Jews from small towns in Eastern Europe to Palestine, where they were to become a population firmly rooted in rural agriculture and physical labor. Conquest of the land (kibush ha-karka) and the conquest of labor (kibush ha-‘avoda) were the supreme ideals of Labor Zionism, the vanguard of the movement by the time of the second ‘aliya (wave of immigration) in 1904 and its hegemonic current from the 1930s to 1977. Conquest of the land, which until 1948 meant acquisition by purchase, was a prerequisite to establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. The attendant dispossession of indigenous Arabs, although legal, often provoked violent conflicts with peasants and Bedouin. During the 1948 war, by expelling or frightening the inhabitants of over four hundred Palestinian Arab villages into fleeing, Zionist armed forces literally “conquered the land” in ways not possible under British rule.

 The decades of Labor Zionist hegemony and the appropriation of elements of its discourse by the post-1967 settlement movement tend to obscure the fact that the majority of Zionist settlers in the pre-state period and in the territories occupied in 1967, as well as the Jewish community in Palestine before Zionist settlement began in 1882, were urban. Consequently, histories of urban Arab-Jewish coexistence have only recently begun to be excavated. This article argues that the trajectory of the Zionist settlement project encompasses a transition from urban coexistence and rural violence toward increasing urban violence as the frontier shifted from the countryside to the cities. The clashes in Jerusalem and Jaffa in 1920 and 1921, and in several cities in 1929, mark early stages of the shift; it became more evident with the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the expulsion or flight of the great majority of the urban Arab population. The renewed settlement drive in the territories conquered in 1967 was primarily urban and accompanied by a sustained, high level of urban violence, especially in Hebron and East Jerusalem.

 Zionism, like other settler-colonial enterprises, imagined the frontier as “a distinctly non-urban geographical space that sits somewhere out in the country or borderlands.”[1] As a corrective, Penelope Edmonds compares late nineteenth-century Victoria, British Columbia, on Canada’s Pacific coast, where large numbers of Native Americans lived, with Melbourne, Australia, which had very few Aboriginal inhabitants.[2] In both cities, by the early twentieth century, the indigenous peoples had been coercively, if legally, dispossessed; those few remaining were marginalized and racialized. Like these examples, the Zionist settlement project entailed the deployment of legalized violence, concentrated at first in rural areas and later in cities.

 In his critique of Gershon Shafir’s[3] thesis that the terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were definitively established by contestation over land and labor from 1882 to 1914, Zachary Lockman[4] argues that Shafir fails to account for important Zionist institutional, political, and military developments after the 1917 Balfour Declaration, especially the persisting violent and coercive character of Zionist settlement. Lockman’s emphasis on the historical continuity of violence recalls Patrick Wolfe’s pithy formulation, “Invasion is a structure, not an event.”[5] It develops dynamically over time informed by factors such as the balance of forces among groups of settlers or settlers and their sponsors, the extent and nature of resistance, and the global balance of forces and discourses that enable or constrain its consolidation. The post-1967 settlement drive in the occupied Palestinian territories exemplifies both the long-term structure, and the dynamic and changing character, of the Zionist invasion.

 Ariella Azoulay highlights the crucial role of violence in the Zionist project in her photo essay about Palestine/Israel during the decisive years of 1947-50. Inspired by Walter Benjamin, she argues that establishing the State of Israel entailed “constitutive violence” (‘alimut mechonenet).[6] Her film, Civil Alliance, Palestine 47-48, reenacts the many accords between local Arab and Jewish communities who sought to maintain peaceful relations on the eve of the 1948 war. Contrary to Shafir, who argues that by 1914 the impulse to establish a split labor market and a dual society in Palestine (though never fully accomplished) was well established, Azoulay maintains that as late as 1948 Jews and Arabs shared elements of civic life in common, while the Zionist leadership strove to separate the two peoples. Peace pacts were concluded in many rural areas, but the centers of gravity of Arab-Jewish economic and social relations—Jaffa, Haifa, and Jerusalem—were urban.

From 1949 to 1967, Israeli settlement authorities launched several campaigns to incorporate territory conquered in 1948 into settler space, such as the “Judaization of the Galilee” (yehud ha-galil) and “the conquest of the desert” (kibush ha-shmama). These campaigns increasingly involved urban developments: installing new immigrants in the homes of Palestinian refugees and rapidly constructing housing projects in Jaffa, Acre, Haifa, Jerusalem, Lydda, and Ramle. In zones of the former rural frontier, state authorities established new urban centers known as “development towns,” like Karmiel in the Galilee or Kiryat Gat, Dimona, and Sderot in the Negev. While clashes over land in rural areas continued from 1949 to 1967 and also after the 1967 war, the importance of agricultural settlement gradually diminished. It was a relatively minor aspect of the reinvigorated post-1967 settlement project, whose center of gravity was incorporating East Jerusalem into the Zionist domain.


Hebron, 1968-Present

The Hebrew Bible...relates that Abraham bought a field and the Machpelah Cave, or Cave of the Patriarchs, for four hundred silver shekels from Ephron the Hittite in Hebron, also known as Kiryat Arba‘ as a burial plot for his wife, Sarah. According to Jewish tradition, the Cave of the Patriarchs contains the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah, and Rebecca....In the Muslim tradition the site is known as the Ibrahimi Mosque and considered the tomb of Abraham, who is recognized as a prophet in the Qur’an.

For militant religious settlers, Hebron is second in importance only to Jerusalem as a holy site. They saw the resettlement of Hebron as an opportunity to avenge those massacred in 1929, though they did not bother to ask if the survivors or their children wished to be avenged. Members of the Association of Hebron Descendants, most notably Haim Hanegbi, have denounced the post-1967 Jewish settlers of Hebron on several occasions.[7]

On 4 April 1968 Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a disciple of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, led eighty-eight Jews, selected and financed by the Movement for Greater Israel, to Hebron. They registered at the Park Hotel as tourists, claiming that they had come to conduct a Passover seder in the holy city. After the seder, the group reneged on its promise to the Israeli army that they would leave Hebron after two days and announced that they had come to resettle the city.

Although Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan refused to meet with Levinger’s group, Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon embraced their cause. He had already submitted to the cabinet a plan to settle Hebron in January 1968. Two weeks after Levinger’s group occupied the Park Hotel, Allon visited them and announced, “There have always been Jews in Hebron, the cradle of the nation, until they were violently uprooted.…It is inconceivable that Jews be prohibited from settling in this ancient town of the patriarchs.”[8] If the stakes were articulated in these terms, no Israeli government—especially not one divided over the future of the occupied territories and presided over by Levi Eshkol, who had no military experience and was disrespected by his generals—could oppose Jews determined to settle in Hebron. Levinger’s group was removed from central Hebron and temporarily housed in the military governor’s compound outside the city while the government decided what to do with them.

The settlers demanded and received expanded access to the Cave of the Patriarchs.…[A]ccess to the tombs was a sensitive matter involving a change in the religious status quo. In 1266, after the Mamluks expelled the Crusaders from Palestine and established a district capital in Hebron, Jews were forbidden to advance beyond the seventh step leading to the Ibrahimi Mosque. The status quo was maintained by the Ottomans, who conquered Palestine in 1517, and by the British after their conquest in 1917 as the simplest way to maintain order.

This detail reveals both the limits of Ottoman coexistence and the character of the post-1967 Jewish settlement. For many, Ottoman “equality” meant amiable coexistence without questioning Muslim primacy, not strictly equal treatment, and certainly not a secular government. Many Muslim Hebronites would have considered a demand for new religious rights as an aggressive act. The Jews of pre-1929 Hebron undoubtedly disliked the limits placed on their worship at the Cave of the Patriarchs. But there is no recorded history of demands for greater access of Jews to the place. In contrast, for Levinger, followers of Rabbi Kook, and even some who are not religiously committed to territorial maximalism, Jewish ownership of Hebron is indisputably established in the Bible. Arabs who wish to live there must accept the status of “resident alien” (ger toshav).



Author’s Note: Research for this article was partly funded by a grant from the Palestinian American Research Center. Thanks to Michelle Campos, Jennifer Derr, Zachary Lockman, and Areej Sabbagh-Khoury for comments on earlier versions of this article.

[1] Penelope Edmonds, Urbanizing Frontiers: Indigeous Peoples and Settlers in 19th Century Pacific Rim Cities (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010), 5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See Gershon Shafir, Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

[4] Zachary Lockman, “Land, Labor and the Logic of Zionism: A Critical Engagement with Gershon Shafir,” Settler Colonial Studies 2 no. 1 (2012), 9-38.

[5] Patrick Wolfe, Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event (London: Cassell, 1999), 163.

[6] Ariella Azoulay, Alimut mekhonenet, 1947-1950: geneologia chazutit shel mishtar ve-hafikhat ha-ason le-“ason minekudat mabatam” (Tel Aviv: Resling, 2009), 9.

[7] Campos, “Remembering Jewish-Arab Contact,” 41-42.

[8] Gershom Gorenberg, The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, first ed. (New York: New York Times Books, 2006), 139, 148; see also Haaretz, 16 April 1968.


[Excerpted from “Mixing, Separation, and Violence in Urban Spaces and the Rural Frontier in Palestine,” by Joel Beinin, by permission of the author. © 2013 The Arab Studies Journal. For more information, or to purchase this issue or subscribe to the journal, click here.]

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